Take ’em To The Bridge — Visiting the Taylor Yard Bikeway and Pedestrian Bridge

As someone who rides on the Los Angeles River Bicycle Path not infrequently, I’ve been closely and eagerly tracking the progress of the Taylor Yard Bikeway and Pedestrian Bridge. When I found out that it officially opened on 5 March 14 March, I took the next convenient opportunity (yesterday) to check it out.

Approaching the bridge

The name of the bridge, Taylor Yard Bikeway and Pedestrian Bridge, is a reference to Taylor Yard, a train station that opened here in 1911. Its name, in turn, was a reference to John Hartley Taylor, an Ohio-born grain merchant who moved to Los Angeles and owned a feed mill on the site. Southern Pacific Railroad closed the station on 14 November 1985. It was bulldozed in 1988 and in 1991, Los Angeles County acquired the eastern portion of the parcel.

In 1992, Metrolink‘s Central Maintenance Facility opened on the former site of Taylor Yard. Community groups sued Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for violating environmental law. In a settlement, Metro promised to build a bridge connecting Elysian Valley and Glassell Park. In 2007, the California Department of Parks and Recreation completed work begun in 2003 the first phase of the Rio de Los Angeles State Park. In 2017, the city acquired the northern portion of Taylor Yard, the G2 parcel. Construction began on the bridge in 2019 with a completion estimate of October 2020. A mere thirty years after it was first proposed (and following three years of construction), the 120-meter long/5.5 meter wide bridge is now open.

Cream Soda resting on one of the belvederes

The bridge, designed by SPF:architects. Its designers nicknamed it “Rumblefish” “in reference to the 1983 Coppola film about rival gangs as a symbolic gesture to the area’s own history of gang violence.” Although there isn’t as much violence between Frog Town, Cypress Park, Thee Rascals, and The Avenues, perhaps, as there used to be in the bad old days — jokingly nicknaming a bridge connecting Northeast Los Angeles and Mideast Los Angeles communities after a movie (adapted from a book, by the way) about gang violence seems not just insensitive and tone deaf but bafflingly provocative.

The nickname might be questionable but the design of the bridge itself is impressive, reminiscent of both classic box truss railroad bridges and mid-century modernist architecture. It has two belvederes (from Italian for “fair view”) that take advantage of the view — in the process making the bridge not just a tool for crossing the river but a place from which to enjoy it. This section of Los Angeles River is one of the loveliest — the Glendale Narrows.

The Glendale Narrows

The floor of the channelized river, here, isn’t paved with concrete due to the high groundwater table. That means that there are boulders and riparian vegetation instead of a concrete-lined trickle of algae-filled sludge. There are, as a result, animals enjoying the setting. A great blue heron stood statue still as it surveyed the water. Double-crested cormorants spread their wings wide to dry out their feathers. A sonata of chirps emanated from within the plastic-strewn branches of shrubs. Of course, no matter how pleasant a bridge is, its primary purpose is to connect two places that are otherwise separated, so it’s worth paying attention to what one can find on either side of the bridge.

Looking toward the west bank

One the west bank of the river are the communities of Mideast Los Angeles (MELA). The bridge enters Elysian Valley, which, like Cypress Park and Glassell Park on the other side of the river, has historically been a working glass neighborhood widely associated with small warehouses and bakeries. One of the best known of the latter is the former Dolly Madison Bakery. As a kid, I preferred their polysorbate 60-filled junk food to Hostess‘s because of its usage of Peanuts characters in its marketing and because I reckoned a raspberry Zinger was better than any Twinkie. In the past dozen years, formerly sleepy Elysian Valley has transformed significantly into a hip neighborhood with the addition of good (but pricey) restaurants, an art walk, a craft brewery, cafes, pocket parks, and expensive new housing developments along the banks of the river (but in the shadow of freeways). Above and behind Elysian Valley are Elysian Heights and Elysian Park. Elysian Heights is a hilly, fairly bucolic (considering its location in the city) neighborhood that is mostly residential — but home to some residences of historical and architectural significance. Elysian Park is the city’s fifth largest park. It’s also the fourth oldest — which makes it inexcusable that the the city still hasn’t made it easier to access with Stadium Way — the main road that provides access to it — unless you’re in a car. The city’s Mobility Plan 2035 — adopted about ten years ago — calls for the creation of bicycle lanes by 2035 — 149 years after the park’s creation. It should not be that hard to create bike lanes and sidewalks on an eight-lane wide road that people treat as a freeway — unfortunately if understandably since it resembles an eight-lane interstate highway more than a street you’d expect to find in a city park.

Looking toward the easy bank

On the east bank of the river are the communities of Northeast Los Angeles (NELA). Aside from the Rio de Los Angeles State Park (a gem, to be sure), most of the LA River Master Plan improvements have disproportionately benefited those on the other side of the river. There are few of the charming pocket parks. The Los Angeles River Bicycle Path is on the other side of the river, and most of the access points to the river’s east bank are fenced off from the homes that line them. San Fernando Road remains, speaking charitably, a car sewer and two cyclists have been killed by hit-and-run drivers there in this month (not yet over) alone. There are no plans to make it safer, either, and even the sidewalks have been shaved down making them almost unusable. There are businesses of note, though, including a former diesel engineering school with Art Deco architecture and a frieze. There are also legacy bakeries like Frisco Baking Company (founded in 1941 by San Franciscans, so don’t say that no one from there says, “Frisco,” thank you) and Peking Noodle Company (founded in 1924)

Nearby Cypress Avenue is much more pleasant, though, lined as it its by trees and driven along by less murderous motorists. It’s home to the first location of Yum Yum Donuts (1971), the first El Atacor (1991), the first King Taco (1975) as well as many other Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants. At one end is the historic bar, Footsie’s (c. 1948). There are noteworthy homes and Glassell Park and Cypress Park, too, and even more above in Mount Washington, if you’re capable of cycling up some fairly serious hills. And finally, the ruins of Taylor Yard itself are worth exploring but you’ll probably not want to ride your bike over there as there’s a ton of rubble and debris including lots of broken glass and rusty metal. Hopefully when it is redeveloped, some of those ruins will be incorporated into the park.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubithe StoryGraphand Twitter.

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